Thursday, December 01, 2011

4D MAN (1959)

Young, handsome research scientist Tony Nelson (James Congdon) is working with a force field device that would allow an object, like a pencil, to penetrate a material, like steel, without harming the material—something about molecules bonding and using up years worth of energy in just seconds. In his latest attempt, he gets the pencil through a block of metal, but in the process accidentally burns down the lab and gets fired. His older brother Scott (Robert Lansing) is a head researcher for an important scientific firm, and has just perfected a new, completely impenetrable metal called Cargonite, though the old scientist who runs the firm takes all the credit, leaving Scott a little dispirited. Luckily, he has his lovely assistant Linda (Lee Meriwether) to comfort him, but when Tony arrives asking for a job, Linda and Tony hit it off, leaving poor Scott in the lurch. Tony continues working on his force field after hours and Scott keeps brooding; then one night, after Linda gives the Scott the brushoff, Scott breaks into Tony's work locker and starts messing with the device. Surprise: he manages to push his hand through a solid metal block and pull it back out, leaving no marks. Soon, simply through the strength of his brain waves, he can turn this power on and off without the device. The problem: every time he does this, he ages some 10 or 20 years, and can only get back his youth by reaching into a living person and stealing his or her life force, which leads to the victim's quick aging and death. Scott slowly loses his sanity, going on a binge of theft and murder; can Tony and Linda stop him?

This B-film from the director of THE BLOB is an interesting attempt at a "Thou shalt not meddle in God’s domain" story, but the screenplay has a few too many ideas for the film's budget. For example, the way the device works is vague, and when the idea of human will power affecting it comes into play (first with Tony, who mentions that he "willed" his first experiment to work), I was lost. The love triangle has potential, but Meriwether, though sexy, doesn't have much personality, and Congdon (pictured with Meriwether) is so much better looking and more dynamic than Lansing that there's just no contest. The role that the Cargonite material plays in the plot is mostly theoretical—the impenetrable object to Scott's irresistible force—though I think it's crucial to the downbeat but confusing ending. Still, the effects are quite good for a low budget film of the era, and the movie has a rich palette of blues and flesh tones. Lansing is a little drab but gains strength as his character goes crazy, and Congdon is good-looking and intense. Familiar character actor Robert Strauss plays a fellow researcher who is Lansing's first victim, and 12-year-old Patty Duke has a small role. A shrill jazz score is interesting at first, but overused and unwelcome by the middle. [Netflix streaming]

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